There’s a breed of old-school reps out there that I grew up idolizing as a young guy getting my start in the outdoor industry in the mid 1990s. They lived in old ambulances, RVs, giant pickup trucks with racks of skis and kayaks for all to partake … they were the coolest.
Chad Gallwitz is one of them, having been a rep for 22 years now. He’s actually been in the industry for 34 years—spending a dozen at retail before he turned to repping full time.
“Coming into the game, you have to do what we’ve all had to do. You’re not going to get a big line right away; there’s something to be said for paying your dues,” says Gallwitz. “Anybody that wants to be a rep should work at retail for…quite a long time, and get into management and buying before you become a rep.”
According to Gallwitz, succeeding as a rep is about truly understanding retailers. He recently committed all his time to one brand—Lowa Boots—after having been in the winter-sport hardgoods world as well for 15 years with Madshus and then with Fischer Nordic.
But it’s not all about living out of your truck and funhogging your way around the country. Being a rep is really hard work, requiring upward of 60 percent of your life spent on the road, according to Gallwitz.
“I think the job for all sales reps has changed over the past 20 years from being men or women who showed a line, asked for and got an order from a dealer, and then did a tour through the territory for a round of clinics…to now being business advisors, consultants, if you will,” says Peter Sachs, general manager of LOWA Boots. “Today’s rep needs to focus product assortments for a dealer, so he needs to know what products a dealer can or cannot sell in their store or community. He needs to write proposals and do tons of follow up. He needs to be active on his computer to reply and act upon correspondence daily. He needs to be available on his cell phone seemingly 24/7. He needs to clinic and coach retail staff about the brand and products, and how to display, fit, and sell those products, not just some key features.”
Continues Sachs, “Chad, like all other reps, has struggled with these changes at times because they have come so fast and the learning curve is steep. However, in the end, he is still there and on top of the pile.”
One of his keys to success, perhaps, is that he’s not afraid to sell high end. “You get what you pay for,” says Gallwitz. But even more important than assortments is attitude.
“When a customer walks in the door, I look at them as someone who needs assistance, guidance, help, to talk about their day at the crag. It’s never about closing the sale,” he says. “The sale may come today, it might not, but you worry about making them feel comfortable, having fun, or if they come in with an issue, you have one goal: When a customer has a problem, they need to go out the door smiling. You spend as much time as you can with someone. “
The only thing more important to Gallwitz than the customers are the dealers themselves. “They deserve for you to walk into their stores, to be out there for them,” he says. “Technology is great, but a lot of people are relying on it so heavily—email or Skype will never replace hand-to-hand, face-to-face communication. When push comes to shove, I’d probably side with the retailer because without them I’d have nothing.”